Sarah R. Callender

Archive for June, 2011|Monthly archive page


In General on June 27, 2011 at 6:19 am

There’s a tag on my little Mini Flat Iron (the mini flat iron I use to straighten a triumvirate of mini curls on my forehead) that offers this stern admonition: Do Not Use in Bathtub.

A flat iron, in case you were not born with curls in unacceptable places, looks like this:

I don’t know about you, but I tend to avoid using anything electric, especially anything that plugs into the wall, whilst I’m sitting in a large tub of already-warm water. I don’t use the toaster oven while I’m in the bath. I don’t vacuum while I’m in the bath. I don’t make smoothies while I’m in the bath.

Yet the warning is right there.

And it’s not just flat iron companies that have a monopoly on silly warnings. Check out this one on Buddy’s and Sweetie’s Razor Scooters:

This label warns: “This product moves when used.”

Are there some kids who ask Santa for an immobile scooter? Are tricks and stunts a whole lot harder OR a whole lot easier on an immobile scooter?

Then there’s this one:

Right-o. But if I hold the chain saw in the proper way, can I use it in the bath tub? In the bathtub on my mobile scooter?

There are other warnings about NOT putting kids and pets in the clothes dryer. Warnings about NOT using Scrubbing Bubbles Fresh Brush (the bathroom cleaner) “for personal hygiene.” Warnings about how a 13-inch wheelbarrow wheel is NOT “intended for highway use.”

I like to think I’m not alone in my reluctance to put a wheelbarrow wheel on my minivan and drive to Yellowstone. Yet this warning exists. Why?

Some might say these warnings are an inherent part of any CYA, uber-litigious society.

Others might say these warnings exist because we have become a nation of dum-dums: people who watch too much reality television, people who don’t read books, people who somehow believe Obama is Muslim. As dum-dums, we rely on little reminders about, for example, the right vs. the wrong end of a chainsaw. And whether a scooter with wheels on the bottom will move.

But I think the real reason for Warnings is one part Darwinism and one part terrorism.

That’s right. Just stay with me for a moment. STAY WITH ME! It will all become clear (mostly) in the next paragraphs.

To explain: Charles Darwin, as you know, coined those famous phrases, “survival of the fittest” and “natural selection.” And I think he got it right. A society thrives and prospers when its fittest survive. Sooooo, what if there’s a terrorist group that wants the unfittest to survive?

Obviously, we who would flat iron our hair while submerged in water are not, perhaps, the Fittest our society has to offer. So what if this particular group of Darwinistic terrorists wants us dum-dums to avoid being electrocuted or maimed or put in the dryer SO THAT we can procreate SO THAT we can give birth to kids who are equally dim witted SO THAT their terrorist organization can take over the entire country during a single episode of American Idol.


But here’s the great ironic twist in my conspiracy theory: Darwinistic terrorists (or any other terrorist group for that matter) do NOT warn us about the things that really should include the strongest and sternest of warnings. Like having a baby. Or getting married. Or enrolling one’s children in the Seattle Public School system.

Oh, just kidding. I LOVE (mostly) Seattle Public Schools. It’s their totally un-navigable website that I can’t abide. That website should come with a warning. A warning AND an apology. Probably also a promise that our kids are not being educated with the methods used in creating that website.

I’m not sure where Darwinistic terrorists fall on the idea of NOT warning us about the important things, and this is probably where, friends, my conspiracy theory gets a little holey. Or, as Husbandio pointed out, a lot holey. But who cares! Creating conspiracy theories is really fun! You should try it!

In fact, this leads me to a second warning-related conspiracy theory. Maybe it’s OUR PARENTS who make up another group of terrorists. Pro-population terrorists. They withhold all warnings about the difficulties and challenges of marriage and parenthood because they want GRANDKIDS. So we, trusting our parents, nod our heads and say I Do, shortly after which we toss the birth control out the window and start a family. The next thing we know, our parents are smiling happily, a grandkid on each knee. Meanwhile, we’re sitting in a pile of Lego and Goldfish crackers, sobbing softly (or, in my case, loudly) because this was supposed to feel different. Wasn’t it?

Or, maybe we aren’t warned about any of the important stuff because it’s impossible to be warned about life’s most important things. And anyway, Falling in Love or Feeling the Biological Clock or Fervently (Mostly) Believing in the Concept of Public Education always overrides all warnings.

But here’s the truth: I’m glad I wasn’t warned or persuaded to take a different path.

My marriage may be 1-3 cm. shy of Storybook, but the longer I’m married to Husbandio, the more certain I am that I won the lottery when we I do’d each other.

Buddy and Sweetie, now officially 1st and 3rd graders, have turned into fabulously funny and interesting people, kids whom I now only occasionally want to lock in the basement. Seriously, this is the start of the second week of summer, and only three times have I wanted to lock them in the basement. And yes, there was that the time on Saturday when I wanted to hop into or onto something other than a minivan and drive off into the sunset with Husbandio. But then I got a good night’s sleep and my kids were no longer creatures from whom I wanted to escape.

As for my relationship with Seattle Public Schools, well, I can still write a little better than Buddy and Sweetie, but they’ve both surpassed me in Everyday Math and Knowledge of the Iditarod and The Life Cycle of the Butterfly. So that’s cool.

So now you go: what things or people or events in your life should have come with a warning? Should your mother-in-law have come with a warning? Should your stint on have come with a warning? Should your decision to buy a minivan or skinny jeans have come with a warning? Please share your warnings, serious or funny or just plain insightful.

And, if you’re interested in starting a Conspiracy Theory Club, meet me at the park just down the street on Sunday at 7:00 a.m. I’ll bring brownies and probably some Goldfish Crackers, in case we want something savory to go with the sweet. And it’s OK if your first conspiracy theories have a few holes. The best ones usually do.



In Parenting, Writing on June 13, 2011 at 6:50 am

There are many similarities between being a mother and being a fiction writer. Both jobs have salaries that range from pitiful to non-existent, with no real opportunity for promotion. Both are pretty decent conversation-stoppers at cocktail parties (which is unfortunate because I go to a LOT of cocktail parties). Both Mothering and Writing are also misunderstood professions: mothering, as a job, seems fairly vague and fluffy and flexible; writing, as a job, seems fairy glamorous and mysterious. Neither assumption is true. And, both Mother and Writer must accept that she will receive unkind, unsolicited advice from know-it-alls.

Like know-it-alls who berate a new mom (while she is climbing the concrete steps at the Mariners game, her son tucked in the Baby Bjorn) for allowing her not-crying son to go WITHOUT SOCKS. In July.

These days, of course, after eight hard years at Momcatraz, Alcatraz’s sister-prison, I’d have a comeback at the ready, should some stranger give me unsolicited advice about my child’s footwear. But as a new mom, I just continued trudging up Safeco Field’s stadium steps, my hands wrapped around Buddy’s feet, trying not to cry. Because there’s no crying in baseball.

Similarly, check out this snippet from a know-it-all who wrote an Amazon review for Black Swan Green by David Mitchell. One of my all-time favorite books.

Following from Mitchell’s appalling and overrated piece of tripe, “Cloud Atlas”, Mitchell does a Holden Caulfield, writing in the “voice” of an angst-ridden adolescent. Except that, unlike JD Salinger, who was a great writer, Mitchell has no talent, and so this book reads as if written by an adult pretending – unsuccessfully – to think and speak in the way he thinks 13 year olds speak. The result is twee, unconvincing and tedious.

Jiminy crickets!

Fine if this fellow didn’t like the book. Fine if this fellow felt the need to tell others that he didn’t like the book. But is it necessary to be such an insensitive know-it-all? Play nice, people. Play nice and BE nice. (By the way, “twee” means “affectedly dainty or quaint.” I had to look it up.)

What is most interesting to me, however, is that while many parents-to-be read books like Taking Charge of Your Fertility and aspiring novelists read books like Writing the Breakout Novel, (both fabulous books by the way) we parents and writers really have very little choice in selecting the kid we get OR the book we write.

We parents get the kid we get. And then we must raise that kid.

We authors get the story we get. And then we must write that story.

Sometimes we get “difficult” kids. Sometimes our kids are born with learning disabilities or tragic health issues. God bless parents in that boat.  Musicians sometimes get kids who are tone-deaf. Writers and English teachers get kids like Buddy who (as Buddy’s teachers have ALL told me) “need to work on writing more than one sentence when the assignment is to write a full-page story.” My dear dad got two daughters who have never shown much interest in banking or investing or economics. And, my dear friend, Schmidtie, has a son who at age three, would hop out of the bath, shove his bare bottom in the face of their dog, and yell, “LICK me!”

Yep. Those are the kids we get. And then we must raise them until death do us part.

Writing stories is the same. As far as I know, writers don’t “create” the characters in their stories. Maybe more experienced writers, writers who have earned Pulitzers and Man Bookers or writers with last names like Grisham and Rowling and King and Shakespeare have earned the right to create their characters, but I don’t think so. I’m pretty certain that characters come and find the writer.

It’s like that stray cat who comes mewing at the glass sliding doors every day, many times a day. For some reason, out of all the other homes on the block, it has chosen yours. As if it’s somehow insisting that, unbeknownst to you, you are its owner.

Well. After days of mewing, just at the point before you go crazy, you pour that damn cat a saucer of milk. With the hope that a little milk will be enough to send him on his merry way.

Fast forward six weeks, and you’re taking your new cat, Betty (It’s a Girl!), to the vet, just to make sure she’s had all of her necessary shots. On the way home, you stop at Petapoluza to buy Betty a cute purple collar. It’s clear to you that purple is Betty’s favorite color.

Same goes for the mewing of characters. Writers may have some concept of what they want to write, a story seed, a basic idea that seems to be totally in their control. Maybe the writer also has a vague sense of one or two of the characters. BUT then the writer starts writing, and other characters, uninvited ones, start showing up, their mewing incessant and insistent.

It’s like when your parents go out of town, and the plan is to have maybe just one or two of your best friends over and you’ll pop at Tombstone pizza in the oven and crack open a few of your dad’s Heineken. But then THIS happens:

And suddenly, you’ve got all sorts of strangers in your house, people you’ve never seen before, and they’re making out on your little brother’s bunk bed, drinking your dad’s beer, and searching your mom’s underwear drawer for the cigarettes you never even knew your mother smoked.

It (the story) has taken on its own life and the hostess-writer, best graciously invite these strangers into the party-story. If she doesn’t, they’ll keep mewing and mewing and mewing because characters are just like real people; they really just want someone who will listen.

Writers know this, of course. That once a character comes mewing, it’s best to pour him a saucer of milk and get to know him a little, figure out ways to live together peacefully, maybe discuss who gets which side of the bed, how he takes his coffee, does he like to read or watch TV before bed . . . just generally get to know the guy because fiction characters aren’t people who leave unless THEY feel like leaving.

Parenting’s really no different. Some days our children seem so unfamiliar, so completely unlike us, that we wonder how they ended up in our Christmas card. At our breakfast table. All buckled into their booster seats, tossing Goldfish Cracker confetti all over the minivan.

It is scary when we realize that our kid, OUR KID, seems like he may have come from another family, another century, another planet. And yet, we’re supposed to keep giving him saucers of milk? Clothes? A strong set of values, violin lessons, money for Driver’s Ed, and a college education?

But that’s why being a parent is good and healthy. And sometimes, people, something that is good and healthy for us (getting a mammogram comes to mind) is a little uncomfy.

Being forced to raise a child or write a story about someone who is a little different is scary and exhilarating. Much like traveling to Cairo or Kigali or, I don’t know, Little Rock, when you’ve got no luggage or one of those handy electricity converters or any purse-size cellophaned Kleenex packs for what-have-you. Here, in these foreign lands, the locals probably stare at you, the water likely makes you sick, and you can’t really understand what people are saying because here, natives speak at an alarmingly slow speed. As would be the case in Little Rock. People in Cairo and Kigali, as far as I know, speak at a fairly rapid clip.

No matter! We best put on a happy face and start learning the language, the customs, at least basic etiquette so we can get the most out of the experience, be it parenting or writing.

In my case, as I start this second novel, I find myself trying to serve milk to four mewing main characters: two men and two boys. Frankly it makes me angry that four males (ages 11, 16, 40 and 65) have come knocking on my brain-door instead of going to my fab writer-friend, Sean’s brain-door, because Sean IS a fortyish-year-old man. (Though he looks not a day over 26.) That would have been much easier on me, because believe me, Sean is at least infinity times more manly than I, he was once a boy, plus, Sean’s almost always willing to take in a stray animal, friend, character, without more than one or two qualms.

Yessir. My story would be much better off living in Sean’s head. For so many reasons.

Oh, I know it should excite me that my next novel is chock-full of male, first person narrators who happen to be obsessed with realms of science and have medical degrees I can’t even spell. And on good days it does excite me.

On bad days it makes me feel like the time I was hijacked by a tummy bug in Mexico. Which is a whole other kind of excitement.

On badder days, I want to bend and force my characters to be more like me. Much like I try to get slow-poke Sweetie to speed up, to match my pace. Much like I try to get Buddy to not move all the time. Seriously, that kid never stops moving. Can’t he just sit still for one minute? No. He really can’t.

But. They are the way they are, kids and characters. At some point, we parents and we writers have to open the door to the mewing creatures and pour another saucer of milk.

Then we must buckle up, put on our sunscreen and maybe bring an umbrella. Purell’s probably not a bad ideal either. And then, get ready to experience the adventures that come with such a lovely, terrifying, life-changing invitation.